In Saxon times, defenses were based upon the fyrd, the Anglo-Saxon version of the Scandinavian leidang. It was a militia of all able-bodied men that was called up from the districts threatened with attack. Service in the fyrd was usually of short duration and the participants were obliged to provide their own arms and provisions. The origins of the early militia can be traced back to at least the seventh century. It is likely that the obligation of Englishmen to serve in the fyrd or peoples army is older than our oldest records.

Alfred the Great is credited with the development of the fyrd system.

The fyrd was used heavily by Harold Godwinson during the Battle of Hastings against the invading Normans. However, its failure demonstrates one of the major problems with a volunteer army sourced from peasant farmers, as the farmers returned to the land rather than await the invasion, as they found nothing when they arrived, and felt it better to return to the fields.

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